Ocean City Suspends Artificial Turf Project, Citing Health Risks

Ocean City Suspends Artificial Turf Project, Citing Health Risks

Ocean City had planned to spend as much as $1.75 million to repair the track and install artificial turf at Carey Stadium, adjacent to Ocean City High School, near Sixth Street and Boardwalk. But, citing questions about health risks, Mayor Jay Gillian discontinued the artificial turf portion of project on Tuesday.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian on Tuesday put the brakes on a plan to install artificial turf at Carey Stadium in Ocean City.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Gillian said:

In light of recent news media accounts regarding possible health risks associated with certain types of artificial turf on athletic fields, I have directed my staff to discontinue the planned project to install this material at Carey Stadium.  While I am aware that there are no studies demonstrating a health risk associated with such turf, I have come to believe that further study is necessary.  I am not ruling out installation of artificial turf in the future, pending the outcome of such studies. In the meantime, the city will undertake the necessary repairs to the track and take any actions necessary to maintain the natural turf at Carey Field in a safe condition.

A recent NBC news report (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/investigations/how-safe-artificial-turf-your-child-plays-n220166) has been cited by many concerned residents as a cause for serious concern and has led to much public comment on the issue. The report raises questions about a connection between artificial turf fields and an increased rate of cancer among players who come in close contact with the field surfaces.

In a 6-1 vote in September (with Councilman Pete Guinosso dissenting), City Council gave final approval to an ordinance that authorizes funding $1.25 million to install an artificial turf field and to resurface the track at Carey Stadium, the home field for Ocean City High School and the location of many non-school events. Another $500,000 is already in place for the project.

The track repair and resurfacing will continue, according to Jim Mallon, assistant to Gillian. He said the city is still studying whether the project needs to be re-advertised. Bids on the combined track and artificial turf field project had been expected this week.

The cost of the project and the health concerns led to public opposition.

“You say the artificial turf will provide a safer playing surface,” Suzanne Hornick said in public comment at a recent City Council meeting. “The only studies I have found that corroborate that were funded by the manufacturers … The statistics, according to impartial studies, tell a different story.

Hornick cited studies indicating an increased rate of injuries on artificial turf, concerns about heat hazards, risks of MRSA infections and long-term health concerns related to the chemical composition of the “crumb rubber” used to soften the artificial turf playing surfaces.

Ocean City resident Michael Hinchman, who implored City Council to study the finances of the project (see “Letter to Editor: Artificial Presentation on Artificial Turf Is Wrong“), also asked council to consider the potential health risks.

“I think you should go slow, hold off for a year, and study it,” he said.

Carey Stadium, located between Ocean City High School and the Ocean City Boardwalk between Fifth and Sixth streets, is owned and maintained by the City of Ocean City.

The funding for the artificial turf was part of a larger bond ordinance that called for $1.44 million in appropriations and $1.36 million in borrowing. The approved ordinance included a $150,000 appropriation for purchase of two new Ocean City Fire Department trucks (another $675,000 is already in place) and a $35,000 appropriation for installation of a generator at the fire department’s 46th Street station.

The borrowing will continue, according to Mallon, but City Council faces another potential vote to redesignate the portion of the appropriation for the field.

Councilman Keith Hartzell, at the most recent public meeting, said he had researched the safety of artificial turf through several universities and public agencies and “pretty much found that all the cons were not cons.”

He said he was prepared to elaborate on his findings at a future meeting.


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